Show Review: Incubus @ ACL Live (11/19)

Reunion tours can conjure images of middle aged musicians, thinning hair, and slightly swollen versions of the sexy, smooth rock stars of a generations past. Do they need money? Are they going to play tired, irrelevant old stuff? Are we to be guinea pigs for new stuff?

Hit the jump for words and photos.

Incubus, a band formed in 1991 and fronted by Brandon Boyd, served post-grunge lyrics sunny side up in the late 1990s era of in-your-face, alternative, mosh-pit rock. The band also subtly primed us for rocks movement towards the rave and dance party era of the 2000s, with its beats and techno scratching of Chris Kilmore.

So when I heard Incubus was touring for the Make Yourself 20th anniversary, I was careful to play down the chance it would be much more than a band bored with their own hits, mouthing melody-less lyrics to the same old songs, peppering the performance with experimental material.

Generally, when a band is back on the road after a hiatus, the audience is a mix of former fans and their children. It is an opportunity to share the past and steer the musical tastes of their impressionable young. Perhaps because it was a school night or because the attendees, primarily 30-somethings, were taking a brief reprieve from adulting, I saw no kids.

As if they knew the fans needed a carefree night to let loose and sing like sailors, the band performed each song off the Make Yourself album with all the effort and enthusiasm one would have hoped for. The drummer, Jose Pasillas , with a kit that could rival that of Neil Peart, pound away perfectly synced with the 5-star lighting of each song. Both guitarist Mike Einziger, and bassist Ben Kenney, wore traditionally solemn rock faces, but couldn’t help a smile on occasion indicating they were actually enjoying themselves. The perceived impulsivity of a young rock band was replaced with the maturity of serious and seasoned musicians. Boyd is now more Namaste, than the once uber-cool pin-up boy, but this did not stop him from taking off his shirt about 2/3 thru the show.

Relevance is hardly the motivation when one spends 150 dollars online for a ticket to a sold out trip down Memory Lane. The show opened with a video projected on the back of the stage of the band 20 years earlier. It was evident this was all about nostalgia. Yet, as the band opened with a classic rendition of “Privilege” the lyrics, “The day you were born, you were born free. That is your privilege.”, seem before their time considering the cultural awareness of social privilege that has developed in the last 5 to 10 years. “Nowhere Fast” accurately illustrates the plight of today’s young adults and the difficulties of getting ahead. “Make Yourself” is a notion that is considered particularly necessary in today’s world and “The Warmth” is a particularly needed one. “Consequence” is a song with a message that never ages, and “Sick Sad Little World” is obviously current.

A dark and mournful version of Pardon Me slowed things down with a single spotlight on Einziger and Brandon on his knees. Even though he could have let the audience sing all his riffs, Boyd was not vocally lazy and delivered the melodies. There was no hurry to finish the set. There was no perceived boredom of repetition so often observed when bands play songs that are decades old.

After a short lull in the energy level perhaps due to the romantically slow pace of I Miss You, the show ended with the entire venue screaming the words of Megalomaniac, another song that could have been written in the last 3 years. It seems evident now that the songs on the Make Yourself album were uncannily prophetic.

While reunion tours can form a mental picture of broke, washed up rockers trying to recapture the adoration of former fame, Incubus defied this stereotype with a concerted effort to entertain the audience with the same upbeat energy of an aspiring new band, while exhibiting a generous patience that only comes with maturity. The performance could have been a celebration of days gone by, but instead it reminded us that the children of the 90s did have, and still have, a sweet side. The pertinence of Incubus lyrics makes the songs less has-been than refreshing reminders that some of the music we loved in our youth has relevance 20 years later. Maybe even more so.

Photog Note: Le Butcherettes was a super cool choice of opener and it was an opportunity for the band from Jalisco to win fans as the GA floor was packed for the opener. They handled the shallow stage by exuding personality and owned the crowd. Props.

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